Barbara Pia Jenič:
A walk through the history of scents
What impact does scent have on our daily lives? What is perfume and what is its historical journey to today?Scents and perfumes date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt, more than 5000 years ago, then spread to Asia, ancient Greece and Rome, and flourished in the 20th century. Scent plays many roles: it is the invisible force of religious and spiritual rituals, the invisible friend, the opener of emotions, memory, the creator of atmospheres. The script is based on research into the history of perfumes and scents in everyday life, from antiquity to the 21st century. Although olfactory perception is the least researched of all the sensory modalities, many books and scholarly articles have been published worldwide, allowing the author, Barbara Pia Jenič, to create a story with documentary value.
The protagonist, Tom, is searching for the right scent to stir the soul and win the affection of his chosen one, Violeta. To achieve his goal, he also peeks into history with the help of artificial intelligence and the internet. We learn about the use of scents from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece to Rome. We also trace scents back to the Dark Ages and to the court of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. They are followed by Napoleon Bonaparte, who is said to have consumed as many as 60 bottles of cologne a month.
Screenplay, direction, set design, lighting and scent design Barbara Pia Jenič
Dramaturgical consultant Ana Obreza
Costumes Alan Hranitelj
Sound and music Peter Penko
Vocals Zala Hodnik
Choreography Branko Potočan
Proofreading: Lara Jerkovič AGRFT
Costume designer assistant Ana Janc
Video: Barbara Pia Jenič, Diego Sedmak
Tomaž Toporišič: On the Trail of Smell, which reveals the mysteries of scent through a special sensory experience
Sensorial forms of theatre open up to the viewer liminal areas of perception that are unfamiliar, but at the same time captivating and highly inspiring. If the contemporary theatre theorist Susan Broadhurst describes this type of art as a fertile chaos and a fertile nothing, a storehouse of possibilities, we understand this ourselves as a theatrical experience that this time, through the phenomenon of the sense of smell, produces new, liminal entities that are neither here nor there, caught between positions, emphasizing the corporeal and the chthonic, experimenting. If we apply these characteristics of the performances to the body of sensorial theatre, we can conclude that the performance you are about to see or have seen and smelled represents a type of theatrical seduction that has become something of a phenomenon in Slovenia in the last decades, with Enrique Vargas, and later especially with Barbara Pia Jenič, which can be defined and, as spectators, felt with different senses as a living art, different from classical theatre and, as Barbara notes, as “a sensorial language that tends to involve communication with the visitor on other sensory levels besides sight (if it is already present). Visual communication through images (symbols, archetypal images) plays a similar role in Sensorium as audio communication through words.”
If Barbara Pie Jenič’s Sensorial Theatre was created as a continuation of the method of the magician of this theatre, the Colombian director Enrique Vargas and his Teatro de los Sentidos, a joint theatre company based in Barcelona, it has evolved into a theatre over the last two decades, a theatre that offers audiences incredible, unframed, authentic perception and pleasures, a theatre that, in a special, inimitable experience for both the audience and the performers, causes a change in their perception and understanding of reality, of themselves and of others. It counts on triggering a change in the spectator’s perception of reality, which takes place through the aesthetics of the senses. But this aestheticised language also speaks of the here and now, of our present looking back at the past. Thus, the fragrant gardens of the Trieste performance by Barbara Pie Jenič, the actors and other creators, can cause small miracles that make us perceive the big stage of the theatre differently than usual. With a wider range of senses, awakening special emotional and sensorial memories and feelings.
Ana Obreza: About the play Fragrant Secrets
Every time has its own smell, its own spirit; and also its own spirit. In the performance Scented Secrets, it is embodied in Viki, the ever-present companion of the course of history and the indomitable collector of stories. She is as at home in the perfumed court of Louis XIV as she is in the loathsome pest-hole where the plague scythes; the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars are as familiar to her as the athletic fields of Rome. She was a silent witness to lovers of mythological proportions, Marc Antony and Cleopatra – and she is a witness to Tom and Violet, right here, right now.
Tom and Violet are children of their time, of a modernity filled with technological gadgets that allow fast, instant communication and access to an almost inexhaustible supply of data and information. By browsing the freely accessible online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, they are learning about the many interesting facts related to the historical significance of fragrances and the development of perfume making. The mysterious mystique of the past and their playful imagination open the door wide for them to enter into the very heart of a painting conjured up from the past and to experience for themselves – and with their own noses – the ghosts of days gone by.
The performance Fragrant Secrets is a montage of documentary illustrations, linked together by glimpses of the coming together of two young people who are just “groping” and “smelling” each other to really get to know each other. The performance brings to life on stage well-known historical facts, which are inevitably presented as we imagine them from the perspective of the present. The direct use of period-specific scents blurs the distinction between stage and audience – actors and spectators breathe the same scented air, enjoy the same spirit, dive into the same fragrance pool.
If Fragrant Secrets were a perfume, its ingredients would be: historicity, romanticism, sensoriality, documentary, educational… the other ingredients remain the elusive mystery of scent, to be experienced by each spectator of the performance.
Head of performance and props Sonja Kerstein
Technical Manager Peter Furlan
Sound and video master Diego Sedmak
Lighting Designer Peter Korošic
Stage Master Giorgio Zahar
Stage workers Dejan Mahne, Škabar Marko
Wardrobe Silva Gregorčič
Translator and subtitler Tanja Sternad
Whisperer Barbara Gropajc
Video material: Shutterstock, Fotocommunity.de (spacecowboy74)
Constance Classen, David Howes, Anthony Synnott: Aroma, The Cultural History of Smell , Routledge, 1994
Cobb Matthew: Smell, Oxford University press, Oxford UK, 2020
Poucher, W.A. (1941): Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, Vol. 3, Cosmetics, 6th edn. Chapman & Hall, London
Champlin Edward: Nero, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003
Roberts Andrew: Napoleon, A life , Penguin group, New York, 2014
Petronius Arbiter, Satirikon, trans. Primož Simoniti, Ljubljana: Cankarjeva založba, 1973
Wikipedia and websites